I’m standing in line at the grocery store and sneeking a discrete glance at the cover of People magazine. The headline reads, “Barack Obama Makes History”. Of course, regardless of our politics, all of us must recognize that the victory of the Obamah campaign is a significant historical achievement for the United States. The trajectory towards equal rights in America, that had already reached its tipping point a generation ago or so in our culture, manifested itself in a big way with President-Elect Obama. The Time Magazine cover I’ve chosen to display here (below), The New Face of America, is well older than a decade and one I used to describe the changes in America as far back as the 90s.
That may be why today’s headline struck me as a bit of misdirection. Perhaps, I thought, the headline should read, “The American People Make History”. Eighty percent (80 %) of voters indicated that race was not a factor in their decision making. Even if that is true, this election was certainly not just a political election. It was a cultural statement.
While the Obamah victory marks a shift in American values and culture, it isn’t because Obama’s ideas are so different. His ideas fit well within — even if far on the liberal side — the American Political machine. What’s different this go around is something far more amazing. America is different. Not only are we different in terms of demographics. We are different in terms of culture. Like Barack we are a mix of black and white and more…throw in a little Asian and a lot of Hispanic to start.
If timing is everything, Obama’s timing was impeccable. His message was on code with our shift in culture, a shift that was waiting for an opportunity to express itself. Obama’s candidacy allowed America to show off a little bit of her new self.
Certainly, we live in a new America that finds Democrats more appealling and which considers Republicans out of touch. And we have lived in this new America for quite a while now. But more importantly, this new America is a place where a black man can rise to lead the land. And, it has been this America for a while. This is the meaning of the election of Barack Obama. Welcome to the America of the future, a post-racial America.
Post-racial is a term that is being discussed quite a bit today. In general I dislike “post-anything” terminology. This is no exception. Post-racial doesn’t mean that racism has disappeared. Race still dominates the agenda for some. I’m sure, for example, that there may have been some who voted for Obama just because he’s black. These voters are out of touch with this new post-racial America.
What post-racial may mean is that an increasing number of people refuse to see the world in terms of black and white. We see race as less determinative in our search for self-identification and for belonging.
It doesn’t mean that we’ve moved beyond race to see everyone as just a person. How bland. How generic. Hopefully it means that in many ways we can be black and hispanic and white again. Hopefully it means that we can hate each other’s ideas and not get accused of racism.
Even though John McCain won a significant 46% of the popular vote, I sense that few are upset that there is a black man in the highest office in the land. Even among many of these voters — who are horrified by the economic and/or social tendencies of an Obama Presidency — there is a sense of pride in how far we’ve come as a nation, at least with regard to race.
This election may have sealed the shift in our culture. But the election of Barak Obama happened because our culture had already changed. In that sense, Obamah doesn’t bring the change we need. Quite the opposite, Obama was brought into office by a transformation of culture that had already largely happened. This changed new America was waiting for the right moment to manifest itself but many of us suspected it was there. Only an already post-racial America could elect a black President.
Of course much change is still a comin’. My wife was enjoying the exuberance of an African American friend who was gloating about the Obama victory. He had encouraged her to vote for Obama and against “The Man” (read “whites”) who, in his words, keeps us all down. Well, my wife does have African, Indigenous and European blood running through her veins, but she is not a citizen of the USA so his work on behalf of the campain was moot. Nevertheless, as we talked about this conversation, I had to say, as a hispanic, that those of us who circle H or B on census surveys can no longer blame the Man for keeping us down. In post-racial America, we are The Man.
What do you think?